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Quaker Smith Point at Shelburne Farms

Landscape Architecture by Wagner Hodgson

A new residential compound at Quaker Smith Point on Shelburne Farms, Vt., a 3,800-acre agricultural estate designed in part by Frederick Law Olmsted, included the conversion of an existing barn into a guesthouse and a new primary residence encircled by a new arrival court, water features and entertainment terraces.

Shelburne Farms was built in 1886 by William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb and was created as a model agricultural estate. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted crafted conceptual designs for the site, and noted architect Robert H. Robertson designed four buildings for the estate. With their help, the Vermont farm grew to a formidable 3,800 acres, demonstrating innovative agricultural and land use practices.

In 1972, the descendants of the Webb family formed an educational non-profit to support forestry, sustainable farming and public education through sustainability and conservation programs. To fund the educational programs, a small number of parcels were sold within the estate as home sites. In the 1970s, a Webb family member built a home on Quaker Smith Point.


A segmented bluestone walkway creates a passageway from the guesthouse to the arrival court and provides a link to the main residence. Existing trees create a privacy screen between the two structures.

The existing house, built more than 40 years ago, was not energy efficient, awkwardly sited and turned its back on the dramatic views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack mountains. The homeowners, an art collector and an entrepreneur, were attracted to this parcel for the outstanding 10-acre house site and the option to lease an additional five acres of adjacent land for their hobby, raising English Shire draft horses.

The house site included many mature shade trees and a 10-foot grade change that slopes gently toward the lake. The clients planned to remake the compound with a new main house, the conversion of an existing barn into a guesthouse, an arrival court, entertainment terraces, an outdoor hearth, a small vegetable garden and a water feature. The new homeowners were also interested in becoming involved with the Farm and its mission.


A stone dust auto court was created as an entry point for the new residence and converted guesthouse. Large slabs of ledge stone were locally quarried and define the parking area, and provide a transition to the proximate trees, ferns and groundcover.

The team from Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture, led by Shelburne resident and principal Jeff Hodgson, partner Keith Wagner and project manager Doug Crowell, created a master plan for the compound after careful site investigation, including the adjacent parcel for a separate horse barn and pasture. Working closely with the architect, builder and client, the landscape architect sited the house to take full advantage of the views of the lake and mountains beyond. Orchestrating the flow of indoor rooms with the outdoor spaces, and creating a marriage between the house and the grade change offered by the promontory, blurred the distinctions between the disciplines integrate the new site elements. The outstanding views and the history of Shelburne Farms were a constant inspiration and focus for the entire design team. To accommodate the new house and outdoor areas, two mature sugar maples were moved over frozen ground during the first winter and placed prominently out in the meadow, framing the views towards the lake and mountains. The landscape architecture team worked closely with the architect to take advantage of the natural slope of the site, which resulted in two distinct house levels. The upper level contains the master suite and public spaces for entertaining, while the lower level contains guest rooms, a spa and pool. The project's architecture firm, Birdseye Design, is a Vermont design/build company that has many in-house craftsmen that work in metal, glass and wood. Collaboration between the builder, architect, landscape architect and interior designer was critical as the project moved forward.


Ornamental grasses and shrubs fill the center of the arrival court, highlighted by a decorative stone wall that keeps a canine sculpture (left) out of the elements.

Materials & Installation
The grand 19th century structures of Shelburne Farms were built with locally available materials out of necessity, including slate, stone and locally harvested wood. The design team chose to continue the tradition of using local materials while introducing a new element in the form of Corten steel, which forms a rust-like coating when exposed to weather, creating a unique and stable wall face. This material alludes to the farm equipment relics peppered throughout the site, a material homage to the agricultural past, present and future of the farms.


Another bluestone path with inset gravel bisects a small vegetable garden and planting area and creates a transition from the arrival court to the terraces that overlook the lake.

Initial attention was focused on setting the finish floor elevation of the main house, establishing optimal solar orientation and creating a strong horizontal plinth. It was critical to get this relationship right in order to accentuate the horizontality of the view, site and architecture. The two plinth walls form an arc with a lawn ramp between them to access the lower level of the site, and the meadow creates a foreground for the lake view. The location of the existing barn foundation/guesthouse provided an opportunity for an arrival court that would link it to the main house. A stone dust auto court was created with a segmented bluestone walkway, creating the link between the two structures. Local ledge stone was quarried in large slabs and used to delineate parking spaces for guests and transition into the native landscape, and Pennsylvania fieldstone was used for retaining walls.


The field beyond the house is used for test plots, in conjunction with Shelburne Farms and the University of Vermont Extension, to research which grasses and wildflowers are best suited to the site's lakeside exposure. The farm's commitment to sustainable agriculture practices, public education on conservation and forestry support has continued since its inception in 1886.

Rainwater falls from the residence's long horizontal roof into a Corten steel basin and runnel filled with pebbles from Lake Champlain, an architectural abstraction of the creeks surrounding the property. The runnel lies directly beneath the eaves of the house, and the water circulates north along the facade and bisects a stone wall. A lilac bluestone slab forms a bridge to the front entry from the arrival court and is illuminated by linear LED lighting underneath. Native fern planting provides a field for the runnel, and a series of Corten steel and stone weirs and falls guide the water as it turns west toward the lake. The falls create a meditative calm for the adjacent master and guest suites, and are visible from the bathrooms. The water ends in a Corten basin. A ledge stone entry bridge links the lower level terrace and a walking path to the woods. Photovoltaic panels installed on the horse barn significantly reduce the electricity required for the house, and power a pump that circulates the water and creates a wonderful amenity of sight and sound.


Native ferns planted along the runnel and falls are visible from the bathrooms, adjacent to the master and guest suites, and soften the water's approach along the facade.

At the center of the house on the west side, a lone honeylocust provides dappled shade for a stone dust sculpture court. The sculpture court, visible upon entering the house, creates a foreground for the distant views. The concrete retaining wall that transitions to the lower level of the house has Corten steel panels floating off of the face. Stainless steel cables provide support for vines, and at night internal lights make the steel appear to float off of the wall.

The outdoor kitchen, dining terrace and evening terrace occupy the southwest corner of the house. Stairs inside the house transition down into the sunken great room and extend outside as bluestone steps, creating separation between the dining terrace from the evening terrace. An outdoor kitchen counter of cast concrete sits above a Corten steel base. Cast concrete is used as a seat wall coping and surface for the outdoor hearth.


A lilac bluestone slab forms a bridge from the arrival court to the front entry over the water feature. A series of stone and Corten steel weirs and waterfalls guide the water into the entryway basin.

The expansive field below the house and terraces has been an experiment in meadow restoration. The new homeowners, in conjunction with Shelburne Farms and the University of Vermont Extension, have established test plots to see which varieties of grasses and wildflowers are best suited to this exposed site.

The project has earned several accolades from the American Society of Landscape Architects, including an Honor Award from the national organization, and an Award of Excellence from the ASLA's Vermont chapter in 2013.


A ledge stone path, lined with grasses, pebbles and safety lighting, creates a transition from the side of the primary residence to the fire feature terrace. A railing and retaining wall separate the outdoor room from the meadow beyond.


This project has advanced Shelburne Farm's mission of educating the public regarding conservation and sustainable agriculture, and continued the long Vermont tradition of neighbor helping neighbor. The homeowners' four English Shire horses regularly work on the Farms, plowing fields for food production, logging and pulling sleighs and carriages for tours of the grounds.


The concrete retaining wall that creates separation between the upper and lower levels of the residence is faced with Corten steel panels floating from its face. Stainless steel cables support vines that creep up the wall.


Project Team

Landscape Architect:
Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture
H. Keith Wagner, FASLA, Principal
Jeffrey Hodgson, ASLA, Partner
Doug Crowell, ASLA, Project Manager

Arborist & Large Trees:
Treeworks, Bill DeVos

Birdseye Design, Brian Mac

General Contractor:
Birdseye Design Company, Jim Converse

Landscape Contractor:
Colby Hill Landscape, Pete McGuire

Landscape Lighting:
Epic Electric, Jim Johnson

JKB Stone, James Bennett
Dave Newton Stonework, Dave Newton

Water Feature Contractor:
Church Hill Landscapes, Nate Carr


A dining terrace, evening terrace and outdoor kitchen were installed at the southwest corner of the residence. The cast concrete kitchen counter (right) sits above a Corten steel base.


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October 17, 2019, 9:12 am PDT

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